Five-Star Churches

Before seeing a movie, do you ever read the movie reviews to see what the critics are saying? Or before buying a book, do you read what the book reviews say? Well, today there's a new kind of critic on the scene—a church critic. The Reverend George Exoo is America's first paid church critic. His reviews are a regular feature on a Pittsburgh radio station, where he rates churches by giving them up to five stars. He also visits cities around the country, publishing reviews of local churches in area magazines. So what does it take for a church to earn five stars? Exoo praises churches that are "innovative," "flexible," and friendly; churches where the leaders are easygoing and engaging; churches with dynamic worship services, easy-to-follow programs, and trained greeters. Most important, churches rate high if they're geared to filling social and emotional needs—churches that, in his words, "heal hurts and meet needs." This all sounds very appealing. After all, who doesn't want a church that meets people's needs? But what's wrong with Exoo's rating system is that he considers nothing else. In fact, he explicitly rejects any other considerations in choosing a church—things like duty and obedience. For example, in one review, Exoo praises a church member for leaving behind "a church of dogma and obedience" and choosing instead a church that "enhances[s] his self-image" and offers "an emotionally satisfying experience." That's a five-star church in Exoo's book. But notice there's not a word about the things that Scripture tells us to look for in a church—a church that teaches the truth and that equips believers to live out the truth in every aspect of their lives. The reason Exoo ignores the question of truth is that his ratings are based on a market system, where the overriding consideration is pleasing the consumer. As he himself puts it, it's "a buyers' market." People no longer attend out of spiritual duty. Instead, he says, "they want product." Exoo goes so far as to praise one church for relying not on "theology" but on "marketing"—the ability to sell oneself to the public. Unfortunately, Exoo's views are not all that unique. Many Americans choose a religion not on the basis of what they believe is true but what they like. For them, religion has become just another service industry; worship, another form of leisure and entertainment. No wonder Christians have so little impact on the world. If we want our own local church to be a real warrior in the battle against the evils of our age, we need to treat it as much more than a weekend retreat. We need to treat it as a place to be trained in spiritual combat, a place to put on the full armor of God, a place to renew our commitment to live lives of holiness and purity. That may not earn five stars from the church critic. But it will be pleasing to God. And after all, He's the only critic who really matters.


Chuck Colson


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